Susan's Thursday morning note November 13, 2008
Forward from Here: Leaving Middle Age and Other Unexpected Adventures by Reeve Lindbergh
Good morning! Here I go again with too much underlined that I want you to think about, but not wanting to overwhelm you. I received a note from a beautiful woman that has cancer in her bones (who is receiving this newsletter & comes into our store). In her 80’s. A woman that can only be described with utmost dignity, poise and “moxie”. She wrote, “I’m sorry if my diagnosis had to make you sad…my feeling is this: this life has been a great adventure and another adventure awaits me (I just won’t be able to let people know what it is). But, all this is a long way off and it’s sort of liberating…we don’t have to be in charge of anything anymore… I saw this beautiful woman at Hobby Lobby last month. I couldn’t believe she was just marching in as if she owned the world. I, in my normal bluntness, exclaimed, “You’re alive still!!!!” as we both grinned at her health. She said, “Oh, my, yes – I am coming here to see if they have kits on making paper. I’ve always wanted to learn how to make paper…….” She also added that we should just think of all she’s accomplished in the last 6 months because she didn’t just focus on the fact of her sickness, but saw each day that she was physically capable – to do something stimulating, making her realize her aliveness (I made up that word). Alive. Delighted as Reeve Lindbergh will write below. I drove away with tears. Desiring to be her when I am in my 80s and my body is almost ready to take on the “next adventure.”
This week I was finally able to receive a new release by Reeve Lindbergh, daughter of Anne Morrow Lindbergh (who I have referred to often with her journals on grief and solitude). She writes on aging in her book, Forward From Here: Leaving Middle Age and Other Unexpected Adventures. Her sister died young from cancer, her mother (Anne) died after Reeve cared for her as she lost her memory and dignity, and Reeve’s son died in his crib at the age of two (ironic that her mother also lost a two year old instantly with the kidnapping). This is her view on aging and dying – on life being pain and delight. She feared death as a child, but came to see it as part of our reality as she aged. Here is a taste of her writings on aging, on life being sorrowful, with delight mixed in, of not fearing death.
As I grew older and older, I got more used to the idea that death would happen to everybody, including me, but that in my case it would not happen for a very very very very long time. By the time it happened, I hoped, I would be so old that it wouldn’t bother me. This is not quite true yet, but again, I think I may be getting there. I hope it takes me a while longer. There’s no need to rush.
As I journey on, I carry my lost loved ones with me: my sister, my mother, and all the others. I have learned over the years that I can do this, that love continues beyond loss. It continues not abstractly but intimately, and it continues forever. My experience has also made me understand that loss is inevitable, and that loss, too, continues forever, right along with love.
Internally, quietly, always, I am awake to the possibilities of delight and of disaster. Delight is inherent in each instant, if one can take that perspective and hold it, gently, to heart. Delight is ever present and disaster may not ever come. But then again, it might. I know it is possible to drive around a corner in a quiet part of the world and come upon a terrible scene in which innocents have died. I know that it is possible to come home at the end of a normal, happy day and hear news so shocking and so painful that it will reverberate with hurt in the lives of people I love for many years to come. I know from experience, in fact, that “in the midst of life we are in death,” as the Bible says. I am in the midst of my own life, or by my calculations, about a quarter past midst, and there have been many deaths along the way, so I know that terrible things can happen to anyone, no matter what we have been told by our comforters, no matter what we may say to comfort our children.
What surprises and touches me is that I am still, all the same, prepared for delight. I can drive around a corner on a country road to witness, not a fatal accident, but a great blue heron rising up out of a lonely marsh into the evening sky. The slow ascent of its wings toward heaven matches a deep inhalation of my own breath, an expansion of my lungs and spirit into a place of rest and satisfaction.
I recently entered a building where a group of women in their 80s and 90s had gathered after a physical exercise program. These women carried canes, walked very slowly, and some of them moved with obvious difficulty down the stairs from the room where they had been working for an hour. I was walking on emotional tiptoes as I approached them, thinking of my late mother and of the fading and falling away of her whole generation, those wonderful women who had survived two World Wars and the Depression. I thought of them with pride and gratitude, and with affection, and with sadness. Yes, they were passing on, I thought, this generation I loved. They were leaving me unprotected against the harsh winds of my own aging and my own dying to come. How would I manage without them? I walked past the group quietly, respectfully, wistfully. But I was thrown off my tiptoes and solidly onto my feet again by a raucous burst of laughter. I turned to see three of these women in stitches, heads thrown back, laughing at something a fourth had said. Whatever it was had inspired an explosion of loud, unbridled merriment from these old ladies, and the noise filled the room. I laughed, too. I couldn’t stop myself.
Everything happens in life. Some of what happens is terrible. We know this is true because it has always been true. But there is another truth available, an inexplicable and sometimes crazy truth that is no less compelling. The living of a life, day by day and moment by moment, is also wild with joy.
Delight. Pain. Intermingling constantly. I liked how she wrote that amidst all her realities she was surprised by her preparation for delight. Hope. That is where our eternal perspective can change our entire outlook on what our present realities are. Eternal perspective as my friend had above. Seeing this time as one adventure, but with the absolute certainty that there is another adventure…so close to us all. Where we will get to see all those that we miss. Where we don’t have to intermingle delight with pain any longer. Can you even imagine that? The realization that death or hurt is not around a corner? Not a possibility? I try to imagine what the second of death could possibly be. To not be kneeling in our living rooms or looking to the hills to meet God, but instead, to have him looking directly into our eyes. Delight. Joy. What other words come close to that reality? That promise. We have to make a disciplined effort to keep everything with this eternal perspective.
Thank you, again, for letting me read for you (I have this great little bookstore right here in Aurora where the owner doesn’t care when I don’t pay for books, that’s why I read so much!). I hope your day brings you delights that are even microscopic…delights that surprise you. Even if it is just the still beauty of a candle when everyone else falls asleep. I hope you find a peace you don’t know you can have as you pray. I also hope I’m in the store when you come in so I can tell you thank you, but if I’m not – know that I appreciate all you do to support our store. Have a great week! Light a candle for yourself when you wind down tonight. Such instant peace and delight. What is it about candles that makes us quiet and pray? Susan
Latin for this week:
Tot amici mihi sunt quot inimici sunt - My joy was as great as my sorrow.
Lindbergh, Reeve. Forward From Here: Leaving Middle Age - and Other Unexpected Adventures. New York. Simon & Schuster. 2008